The stroke of the 21st century was probably the darkest phase for Indian cricket. Match-fixing had hit the country’s most loved sport and it involved seniors like Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja. Many others were also under suspicion.
Fans lost their faith in cricket. People let their frustration out by pelting stones at players’ houses, burning their pictures, and many other ways. Indian cricket needed to win back the confidence of supporters and a series against the mighty Aussies was a great opportunity for that.
The rampaging Australians, led by Steve Waugh were on a 15-match winning streak before the start of the series, already a world record then. India was the final frontier for Waugh and he left no stones unturned to make sure the winning streak is maintained.
Add to that, India were just coming out of the fixing saga and were without their prime spinner, Anil Kumble, who was ruled out due to injury. Australia were firm favorites for the series win.
Aussies further asserted their dominance after the first test at Wankhede, where they defeated India convincingly by 10 wickets.
The second test at Eden Gardens started similarly, with Australia piling up 445 runs and India being bowled out for 171. Having a lead of 274, Australia enforced follow on. India were all set for a defeat when they lost skipper Ganguly, with 6 wickets left and trailing by 42 runs.
The dismissal of Sourav Ganguly brought Rahul Dravid to the crease and then what followed was something which changed the outlook of an average Indian fan. Dravid and VVS Laxman stitched a 376 runs partnership, batting the entire fourth day.
This was something that made the Australian shoulders drop and made every Indian believe they can compete with the best in the world. Dravid got out for 180 and India declared at 657/7 when Laxman got out for 281, the highest individual score by an Indian then.
With less than 75 overs of play left and a target of 384 for the Aussies, the match was all set for a draw. But Indian spinners had other intentions. Harbhajan picked up 6 wickets and Sachin contributed with 3 as Australia collapsed from 166/4 to 212 all out. The Series was level.
More importantly, India were back on track and in style. Beating Australia was in itself an achievement in those days. And beating them after being asked to follow-on was something nobody would have imagined in their wildest of thoughts. The Indian team did that and scripted a win which would probably go down as India’s best.
The Series Decider
With the series level at 1-1, it was well in balance when the third and final test started at Chennai. Australia batted first, collapsing from 340/3 to 391 all out. In reply, India scored 501, courtesy a brilliant ton from the maestro, Sachin Tendulkar.
The second innings of Australia ended with their surrender to the young Indian offie who had troubled them the whole series and also got the name Turbanator after the series. Harbhajan had figures of 8/84 and Australia were bowled out for 264, leaving India a target of 155.
India were cruising along before collapsing from 101/2 to 151/8. The Aussies smelled victory, only to be denied by a gutsy Harbhajan, who fittingly hit the winning runs. India won the series 2-1. The off-spinner was named man of the series, finishing with 32 wickets in just 3 matches.
Defeating Australia made India a force to reckon with in world cricket once again, probably more than ever. Waugh could not conquer his final frontier as a new era for Indian cricket began.
Above anything else, it gave the much-needed belief to the players that they can succeed in any situation against any team. The heroes of the series went on to become legends of the game.
The win still remains as one of the greatest series wins for India. And the innings such as the ones of Laxman, Dravid and Sachin and the spells of Harbhajan are still considered to be some of the best.
The Indian team has never looked back since then and has gone on to reach the pinnacle of success in all formats of the game. But it was this series which marked the beginning of the great things which followed.